U.S.-led forces say they have bombed a road in Syria to block a convoy carrying Islamic State fighters from Lebanon to an area near the Iraqi border.
The more than 600 IS fighters and their families, who had been trapped near the border between Syria and Lebanon, were being transported under an agreement among Hezbollah, the Lebanese and Syrian governments. However the agreement angered U.S. ally Iraq, which feared the jihadists would bring their fight to its borders.
The group was brought to the Syrian city of Homs earlier this week and was being transported in buses to in Deir al-Zour Province in eastern Syria, where IS still holds territory.
A coalition statement Wednesday said the airstrike blocked the IS convoy’s route by cratering a road and destroying a small bridge between the towns of Hamaymah and Abul Kamal.
"ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution," the statement said, using an alternate acronym for IS.
The transfer of IS fighters, along with their relatives, from the Lebanese-Syrian border region to Bukamal, which is close to the Iraqi-Syrian border was met with anger from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who called it “unacceptable” and an “insult to the Iraqi people.”
U.S. presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition Brett McGurk wrote on Twitter the “terrorists should be killed on the battlefield” and not transported across Syria to be relocated to Iraq.
"Our coalition will help ensure that these terrorists can never enter Iraq or escape from what remains of their dwindling 'caliphate'," he wrote.
The coalition said it is monitoring the convoy in real time and it would not rule out direct strikes on IS jihadists. Its statement added it is "not party to any agreements that were made by the Lebanese Hezbollah and ISIS or the [Syrian] regime,” noting that any strikes carried out against the IS convoy would be in accordance with “the law of armed conflict.”
The coalition said it “struck individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS,” but that it has yet to target the convoy of buses.